Virtual Women Filmmakers Festival: Screening with Shirin Neshat

Date
  • On Wednesday, March 23, 2022, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) hosted internationally acclaimed artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat for a virtual film screening and conversation about her latest body of work, "Land of Dreams" (2019-2021). Part fiction and part documentary, "Land of Dreams" is a multidisciplinary project that reflects on New Mexico’s diversity and fraught history. All artwork clips have been removed from this event recording. Neshat was joined in conversation by Adriel Luis, curator of digital & emerging practice at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and Saisha Grayson, curator of time-based media at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

    This program was part of SAAM’s fourth annual Virtual Women Filmmakers Festival, which was presented completely online and ran from March 1-23, 2022, in honor of Women’s History Month. In 2022, the festival focused on the theme of “(Re)Making Space,” and featured the following artists: Sasha Wortzel, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, and Shirin Neshat. Through their artistic choices, the conventions they overturn, and the visionary insights they bring to each frame, each artist uses their cameras and imaginations to reshape how we see the world. Through powerful and experimental artworks, they invite us to examine our relationships to and deeper understandings of chosen landscapes.

    This program was made possible by the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, Because of Her Story, and was co-presented with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

     

    -(Saisha Grayson) Hello. Hello, everyone, and welcome. I am Saisha Grayson. I am the Curator of Time-Based Media at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in D.C. And I hope you are as excited as I am for this, which is our final of three live screenings and conversations that constitute the 2022 virtual Women Filmmakers Festival at SAAM (Re)Making Space. It is an honor and privilege to close this Festival with tonight’s special guest, artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat and her most recent body of work, "Land of Dreams." I am also thrilled that this program will be enriched by one of my favorite colleagues across the Smithsonian, Adriel Luis, who is a curator of digital and emerging media at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. In addition to my co-conversants, as we close out, I want to really sincerely thank the expansive team at SAAM that makes it possible to do this each year. And particularly Shantelle Jones-Williams and Gloria Kenyon in Programs, who have just been wonderful collaborators in bringing this all together this year. As well as my intern, Ivy, who joined us this winter and has been great. And deep appreciation for the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative for supporting the festival from the very beginning and into this, its fourth year. And the folks at the Smithsonian AV for bringing this all to your screen so smoothly and to our live captioner for making it all accessible. With that gratitude in mind, I would like to thank you for joining. And I would like to invite you and invite us all to take a deep breath together and to feel ourselves letting go of what we were doing before and to take this opportunity to really bring focus to coming together around art, an urgently needed conversation, particularly this deep, artist-led consideration of what we mean when we call this a "Land of Dreams." What this American Dream might mean and how it converges with each of our individual and collective experiences, and it manifests in the places we live, converge, that we travel from and are heading to. As we gather from different locations tonight to meet in cyberspace, please join me in acknowledging the Native peoples on whose ancestral homelands we each sit, including the diverse and vibrant Native communities who make their home in DC, where SAAM is located and where I am, in Lenapehoking, also known as New York City. For more on the Lenape, also known as the Delaware Tribe, visit their official tribal websites, linked in the chat. And to learn more about the Native peoples where you are, you can begin by cross-referencing the digital map Native Lands and the National Congress of American Indian’s list of tribal representation, which is also available in the chat. And I would say this awareness of indigenous land claims, and presence continual presence on these lands was one of the things that really sparked so much interest and recognition when I first saw Neshat's "Land of Dreams" as a video project back in 2021. After decades of seeing Shirin's work as she thinks and reckons with the experience of exile in relationship to her homeland of Iran, and the way that she’s considered cultural and physical distance as she has lived in the United States since 1975 has made her acutely attuned to and aware to those contradictions and experiences. And here was a project where she was linking her personal experience as a refugee from Iran to all the other immigrants who have been displaced by various circumstances around the globe and are now making their home in the United States. So that to see her thinking about that international diaspora but also bringing into the frame those who were turned into refugees within their own homeland on Turtle Island to those who are made foreigners by shifting borders, and who are made trespassers by pieces of paper that perhaps revoked generations of stewardship and interconnectedness with a place and a land. And so it was this empathetic, expansive investigation of the meaning of "Land of Dreams” and what it might be now in the shadow of the 2016 election, in the midst of a renewed racial reckoning that just made this project, and this artist, the perfect culmination for our Festival, which across three artists Sasha Wortzel, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, and Neshat, has really sought to offer insights into how we relate to and are shaped by, and shape the environments we inhabit. With Neshat, I would also emphatically add that this includes not just places we are but places we remember, places we long for, feel estranged from. And since the early 1990s, Neshat has created just unforgettable photographs and videos that explore that experience and that consider the binaries that structure so much of how we understand, and see and categorize the world, so things like East versus West, Men and Women, Freedom or Oppression. And she very often depicts these through her signatures black and white palette. Staging but also complicating the face-offs between oppositional ideas in the world. And since the early 2000s, she has worked in performance, and in 2009, she directed her first feature film, “Women Without Men,” which won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. And I should say that's just one of many international awards she has won. Her lists of achievements and exhibitions and museum collections is just far too lengthy to do justice to here. So, we will include a link for all that information at another point. But for now, I just want to thank her again for joining us and agreeing to give SAAM audiences a sneak preview of her next feature film "Land of Dreams" which will soon be released, I think, sometime this summer. And she just shared this might be the first time it has been shared even in sneak-peak form with U.S. audiences. So, we are very honored. This feature film work relates to but it is distinct from the black and white two-channel video I saw in 2021. And I will remind you that it is available for festival registrants to watch in full via a link in password that came in your event confirmation. And that's available until April 8th. The video and film are related and distinct. They are also related and distinct from a similarly titled photographic portrait series that Neshat created at the same time. What all three have in common is a focus on the diverse peoples and distinct landscapes of New Mexico and this turn to the United States and its unique figurations is something that stood out to me and I am excited to talk about with her. And the film and video also share a protagonist, Simin, who for shifting reasons in the various films and videos and in service of various organizations, is seen gathering portraits and dreams from New Mexico's inhabitants. For tonight’s screening, we will start by sharing a ten-minute excerpt from near the beginning of the feature film. In this we join Simin as she is explaining aspects of her project after having entered a couple's home on behalf of the Census. As she leaves we see how she takes these intimate insights and reprocesses them, and repurposes them, and records them in surprising ways.And we then after that kind of 10-minute segment, will jump to just the closing scene of the film. And I promise it is not a spoiler but it is just so beautiful and gives real sense of, sort of, the framing that I wanted us to be able to see that together. After that, I will invite Shirin and Adriel to join me on screen and we will discuss. Some just very short final housekeeping notes. As noted in the chat, we have live captioning, so along the bottom of the picture you can access that. During the live Zoom, you can also submit questions using the Q & A box throughout. And I want to stress, as a question comes to you, feel free to throw it in there and we will turn to it later in the discussion. I also encourage you to turn off other devices, and tabs, put them on silence so you are distracted. And then just recognize that we are screening through Zoom so sometimes connectivity can affect resolution or playback. So, if you see something that looks a little funky, it is probably in the platform and not in the piece. And with that, we will start the screening. Cal, please play "Land of Dreams."

    -(Saisha Grayson) Hi. Welcome back. Sorry that final clip got cut off a little bit. But the swelling music, you can kind of tell it continues for a while. But thank you Shirin for joining me back on camera and Adriel as well. I wanted to include that final scene because in addition to just the beauty of the shot, it draws together so many of the things that are going on in this project and so while I invite you to say whatever you want coming out of that those two clips, I do hope that we can talk about how this feature film, which is going to come out this summer, as I said, really weaves together three projects you have been working on for so long. Maybe you can help set no up for the audience, if I didn't completely clarify that well enough in the intro.

    -(Shirin Neshat) Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me. Thank you for all the audience who join us today. There are so many things to say about this project, both in terms of the form and the experimentation that was went into the way which we developed the video versus the movie based on same principle idea. And as you said, I worked on both video and movie cinema for a long time and photography. So it was the first time for me to develop an idea that could collapse into completely different mediums but still have same resonance, if I could say. But just to touch on what your last footage that you showed that unfortunately was not showing properly, is that it is perhaps the most visual moments of the feature film because, as you know, it is a fully narrated film. But for me, this really brought to attention the relationship between poetry, I am sorry, dreams and photography, which, you know, all this time that she was photographing people, collecting their dreams, but also she had an obsession with her own family photos and her own heritage as an Iranian, who somehow has a very traumatizing past.But somehow, for me this relationship between dream and photography is very poetic in a way that dreams are so ephemeral and vanish so quickly, you know. They are so impermanent. But there is something about photography and especially human portraiture that is so, that is like frozen in a moment, that is so permanent.
    And you know, as she places these photographs of both her own family and the Americans who supposedly the two culture being each other's enemies, and yet our dreams are so similar. And so, I think there was something very powerful about the humanity in us and how our dreams bring us together. And how the images remain as who we are in many ways and life is so ephemeral. And it just for me for a film that was quite narrative, to end it on this kind of very evocative and poetic note, was to say something that ultimately what this film is about, is that everything is so ephemeral and that our humanity is what brings us together and we are going to die, and we are all made of anxiety, and nightmares, and those are very similar, regardless of where we come from, you see. And so because the whole film is about her as an Iranian versus American culture and her finding at the end is that, there is not really a big difference.

    -(Saisha Grayson) That is so interesting. I love hearing you speak about that. I was really struck. Maybe this is where my head was at as I was thinking about this Festival in relationship to, sort of, specificity of land and particular grounding. And so, I was really interested in the gesture in which the photographs are being, sort of, wedded into the land and some sort of recognition yes, of this broader humanity but also of some sense of who we are, how we are shaped, is in relationship to this earth, right? Whether it is the global earth or these very specific places. I don't know. Adriel, what did you take from that scene or what was your first reaction to it?

    -(Adriel Luis) Just love it all. I just love it all. Yeah, well. Hi everybody I am so glad to be here. Hi Shirin, Hi Saisha, I am tuning in from Tongva, also known as Los Angeles. And, I mean, New Mexico -- before this event, I was talking to everyone about how the last time I had been there was in 2019. But prior to the pandemic I hadn’t really been able to go often. And just this film was just like a portal back to some of these things that I love about this space, like, the sky is just very different out there and the way that the clouds kind of brush across. I loved seeing Ship Rock and a lot of the other landscapes. And I know we will see clips of some of the other works in this constellation. But you know, what I really loved was how New Mexico itself is sort of a character. It is a character in this film and in the video as well. And so, you know, there is a lot to speak about why I am interested in New Mexico and what draws me to it. But I am curious what Shirin why did you select New Mexico as this site, was it intentional or did you, you know, kind of, pick a place and then, sort of, have that unravel?

    -(Shirin Neshat) Well, first of all, we traveled across America to choose that perfect state. And we are mostly Iranian people working together and we knew we wanted to look for a landscape that resembled Iran, basically I come from, a city that is in the middle of a desert landscape. And I have always had a love affair with the desert landscape. When you go to the Southwest it is just so extremely beautiful and there is so much reminiscence for us from the Iranian landscape. So we settled you know, we were thinking about Nevada, Utah, Colorado. But anyways we chose New Mexico. But also, I have to say that there was other reasons, is this the demographics. I mean, New Mexico is one of the poorest States in America and it does have a very diverse community of a large Native American community to Hispanic immigrants, as well as African Americans and of course the Anglo in many different economic class. And finally, there was something about my interest in cinema and in America for example in films that were shot in the Southwest like “Paris, Texas,” or “Thelma & Louise” the road movies. And since the construction of the film, there were six households and in between there were all these roads. It just perfectly lent itself to have plenty of time where we just go with the car from this house to that house. But I think for me, it was personally incredible joy to be in New Mexico. I really fell in love with this State for all the different reasons. So we shot the video in 2019. We went back in 2020 during the pandemic. So, I spent a lot of time there.

    -(Saisha Grayson) That opens up sort of two questions that you can decide which one you want to answer first. One is, sort of, if New Mexico is one character that, sort of, stays through all these projects. The other one is Simin. And I was curious, you know, at what point did you recognize that this was going to be a multipart project? And when did you think about bringing those two kind of figures together, this dream-catcher, and the portrait-taker, and this, kind of, expansive landscape and these, kinds of, as you said, demographics that that would allow her to move through and think with?

    -(Shirin Neshat) Yeah, I mean, first of all, I was clear about certain ideas that was going to be consistent regardless of the form. Whether it was video or the movie and that was that the woman had to be Iranian, photographer, living in exile, which is very much the echo of who I am.

    -(Saisha Grayson) Yeah, she is your alter ego.

    -(Shirin Neshat) And that I had obsessively filmed some of my own dreams. But I was now very obsessed with collecting other people's dreams. And also, I was really interested in this satirical storytelling of how, you know, Iranian people could be spying on Americans’ dreams and the idea that dreams become a point of a meeting between two enemies et cetera. But I knew that the video would be much more in line with my previous work, which would be much more enigmatic, that, you know, usually my videos are multi-channel videos that where the audience becomes almost like the editor of the piece as you will see soon with the clips that you will show. So there is a lot of the participation in the audience is demanded in terms of their comprehension of the story by the way in which they can simultaneously follow the narrative on two different channels, which is essentially showing the opposites. You have the open landscape, natural landscape. You have the industrial, claustrophobic landscape of the Iranian colony. You have dreams. You have reality. You have U.S. You have Iran. You have this internal world of this woman. You have this community that she visits. So, all of these ideas tie back into my earlier work like “Turbulent,” “Rapture,” some of the other more iconic work that I have done that were constituted around the notion of opposites. And always black and white. Magic realism. But with the movie, I knew that it had to be a scripted narrative, that it had to have development for it to last for two hours. And I went to Jean-Claude Carrière, who was one of the most important scriptwriters of the history of cinema who had sadly died just when this film was in editing phase at the age of 89. He worked extensively for Buñuel. And so when I came up with the idea of a woman, Iranian woman, being divided between a small American town and Iranian colony and how she could be a middle-person or a spy in between the two. He took that idea and came up with other characters, like, you know, the character of Mark and Alan, and fully developed script. And then we took that back and we worked for two years on a script. And that each household was, became kind of a short story with major characters that had their own developments, et cetera. So very much like the video, where she visits a few households, the movie also takes that kind of format, but just much more narrative if I could say.

    -(Saisha Grayson) That’s so interesting. I think I had not really thought about the sequencing. Did you work on the script for the narrative at the same time as you were already shooting the video or did you have both scripts or treatments, kind of, ready to go so that you knew how they would intersect and, sort of, speak back to each other?

    -(Shirin Neshat) The video is exactly how I imagined it, that there would be this dubious colony inserted inside of a mountain, totally unbelievable, where all these men, and women, in lab coats, Iranians, are secretly analyzing Americans' dreams and photographs. And then she goes with car every day to this American town and disguises herself as an artist and takes their pictures and dreams and comes back. This was exactly like that. But then when Jean-Claude and Shoja Azari, who was also my long-time collaborator, they started to delve into the script with my collaboration, we realized that actually in the movie the Iranian colony should take a step back and the American government should be the main protagonist, you know, in terms of the more sociological dimension of the film. And so we gave the Census Bureau the weight of the Colony in the video. But the idea was that she actually lives in America, not in the Colony like in the video. But there is this sense of duality, who she has as an Iranian, what she is conflicted about, her personal dilemma with her own political history, her family’s history. And yet the film being a kind of a social critique about America. And how the idea of the Census Bureau and the whole notion of surveillance over the American citizens of collecting people’s dreams became the more dominant force in the story that did not exist in the video. And this was the creation of Jean-Claude, and then with the help of Shoja, we then took some of this idea and then, sort of developed it further as unfortunately, he became ill later in the progression of the script. But so it was like where Shoja, Jean-Claude, and I met in terms of taking my original idea and then just developing it in different ways

    -(Saisha Grayson) Yeah. I really like how you can see that valance kind of shift and the relationship between the two, is itself kind of dreamlike? They are similar. You think you know what is going to happen or what their relationship is. Then it will, kind of, veer off or shift the tonality, it will shift the emphasis of who the good guy and the bad guy, or who uses the terms but, you know, who this organization is that you are concerned about watching your every dream, that shifts too. But it is all in this nebulous way, where is, sort of, never pinned down. So is it the government. There also seems the implication of I was thinking about data management and you know, the kind of digital surveillance that we are all, sort of, participating in our lives too that has a lot to do with that kind psychology, desires, things that we maybe don't tell other people but we type into our phone.

    -(Shirin Neshat) I just want to say, you know, in all of my work, there is always been this focus on the people of power, the people of authority, you know, the systems that rule either religion or state. And it made sense in the video that there is was this more focus on this antagonism between Iran and the U.S. and et cetera. And sort of that satirical way of talking. But in the movie, which was so much about America, it made sense that the dominant source of power was American administration, not Iran. Because she was Iranian. But this was no longer about Iran. That was just a kind of side story. So it made perfect sense that we alternate the focus of our story, in terms of the power structures about the American governance and slightly in the future where you have the bureaucracy of the Census Bureau is integrated with the corporate face of the Facebook, Twitter, and what we can see in the future that the corporation could have a hand in like they had in the election. So I think what why we welcomed what Jean-Claude did was that it brought the focus to the American government, where with the video it was equal about U.S. and Iran. Does that make sense?

    -(Saisha Grayson) Absolutely.

    -(Adriel Luis) Yeah, I feel, you know, the thing about New Mexico that I was surprised by was how present the government is there. When I was traveling, I was living in D.C., and it was a very different kind of presence than in D.C. And you know, throughout the film, there are points where people are deciding whether or not they want to share a dream and then at least two times the reasoning is like, this sort of patriotic duty to like, share something so private. And I am just so curious about that because, you know, the reason I was out there, I was working on a film about how Navajo people have, you know, been affected by nuclear histories and so it all similar to Simin, I was like going around with these artists, Lovely Umayam and Kayla Briët asking people these really deeply personal things. And even though we weren't representing the government the fact that we were coming from D.C., it sort of, you know, created a kind of dynamic. I just wonder, could you talk a bit more about that idea of the U.S. government's presence in a place like New Mexico?

    -(Shirin Neshat) It was interesting because in 2019, when we first went to make the artwork, which included a hundred and eleven photographs, I literally photographed over 200 people. The ddea was to ask each subject about their dreams and their relationship to this country. And it was very fascinating. But also, for the video, I did what the protagonist did in the film. I went door to door and knocked at the doors and introduced myself as an Iranian artist who’s trying to make a project from the perspective of an immigrant about America and how I was very obsessively asking for people’s dreams and to take their pictures. Some people said they just get lost. And some people said please come in. And so, the art project had this semi-documentary aspect to it because I was literally a part of this project, you know, by being active in the community, throwing myself in there, asking people about their lives, asking about their dreams and how, you know, I consequently got really close to them. I bonded with them as another immigrant, as another minority. And it was fascinating to see how their dreams were so much similar to mine, et cetera. And that obviously the communities that I visited were a lot of them were marginalized. I spent a lot of time with Native Americans and Hispanic immigrants living in Albuquerque as well as African Americans. I really wanted to be, you know, making sure that the project is very inclusive of very diverse group of people, within the State of New Mexico. But with the movie, it was completely a fiction. It was really developed. There was not very much of kind of documentary style to it. You see what I am saying? But I did, for example, study quite a lot about what the function of the Census Bureau is, and so, you know, a lot of research went into it. But it was pure fiction. But I would really say that I felt that literally I played a role in the video that, you know, by putting myself out there and talking to so many hundreds of people and then having someone else play me, it was really where life and art were just sort of coming in close proximity, like nothing else I have ever experienced.

    -(Adriel Luis) Yeah. I think that sense of bond and community is some I learned that is so important because, like you said, you know, it is there is a lot of impoverished people there, it is kind of a place where a lot of filmmakers and authors will come in, kind of, take interviews, and then make their project and then kind of disappear. And something that I heard from a lot of Navajo folks was that for them, you know, the part of the due diligence of, you know, actually recognizing that the relationship goes beyond just a single project. So I think I really love the fact that this is not just a single film or single video but really this constellation and something that has really shifted who you are as a person, as an artists, as well.

    -(Shirin Neshat) And I have to add that with every family, every household, like for example, the Native Americans, we made sure that we consulted with them about what we had originally scripted and what we had in mind, as a dream for a Native and whether that was correct. In fact, you know, first of all, at the beginning when we went, the film commission told us never go into the reservation, they never like to be photographed or filmed. They are not really interested in collaboration. That's not true. And when I went there, I remember I just knocked on someone's door and literally they welcomed us. So, when originally we told them what we had in mind for the dream, for the native lady. They said, no, no, no, that is really incorrect. That is just not. And they told us, for example, the dream that is in the video, it is exactly of something that they shared with us as how as young natives they were taken away to the convents from the age of seven until eighteen and to be taken away from the family to forget their language and their religion and be converted into Christianity. We went to this convent, which was abandoned by then. And it was horrific scene. And so, we recreated the nightmare of this native lady who said I often have a nightmare about my child, end up where I was for many years and how they were always angry at their parents because they were separated and they thought that the family let them. They didn't know it was by force. So or the military man that we talked about his serving in the military and the nuclear tests that they did in New Mexico. So what I am trying to say is that much of the dreams that eventually were put in the film were in consultation and collaboration with the people who actually we worked with, some of whom, most of whom were not actors. They were regular people. And this was really different from the movie.

    -(Saisha Grayson) Yeah. If I may take that as an opportunity, we actually have most of those scenes as selections, because, you know, we share the link and password with everybody. You can watch on it your own time. But maybe you didn't watch it yet. So as we are talking about this, I thought it would be helpful to actually be able to, sort of, visually see it. And then you can know you want to go and watch the whole thing later, after the talk. So Cal, can you play those two dreams, and then we will come back and talk about them?

    -(Saisha Grayson) So the dreams are so poignant and it is now even more knowing that you, like Simin, actually gathered those right from conversations from trust with people you met, is very powerful to kind of understand and process, the first time I seen them with that knowledge.

    -(Shirin Neshat) Thank you. I mean, the idea was that ultimately both in the movie and in the video that we have a diversity of themes, even within the dreams. Because the more common dreams that we seem to find among people is fear of violence, abandonment, displacement, war, Nuclear Holocaust, and so, you know, fear of death. And so in the few households in the video that we visited, we tried to sort of identify different themes of dreams. And we had an immigrant and we had a native who is white American. So, we had different people of different economic and racial backgrounds. And the same in the film. We have an African American. We have a native. We have wealthy. We have poor. We have, you know, different and that for me, just like that photographs, the video and the movies, to me is a portrait of America from the perspective of a person who is an immigrant. And so I am very clear about it, this would not be the same point of view from someone who is born in this country. But the diversity that I show among the households, among the dreams, among the faces and the portraitures in the photographic installation is the way I see this country, the way I relate to this country. And that I felt that whole idea of the "Land of Dreams," which was associated with America was slowly kind of being compromised. So there is this agenda on my part of being vocal about the fact that this film is being made by a person who is an outsider and also Simin is my own alter ego, is a person that is not exactly integrating among her own community of Iranians, like I won't, because I have been living outside longer than, you know, in my own country, but also not exactly integrating within the American culture – so this idea of the loneliness or the being the outcast, this person was constantly being divided politically, emotionally, culturally between two different places. And that I think the last thing I want to say is that, the discovery I had as an artist, as a human being working with "Land of Dreams" was me discovering how much I identified with other minorities in this country, in the way that I never thought I would. I always thought I would have to rush to the Iranian communities to feel like one. But I actually, you know in a very wonderful way, I found that I completely relate to the struggle of other minority groups including African Americans, and the Natives, and the other immigrants. Anyways, for me it was an opening, kind of departure as an artist and as a human being, I think.

    -(Saisha Grayson) No, no. You go.

    -(Adriel Luis) I was just going to say that, I mean, it really occurred to me watching that scene again, that I can't think of any other situation on film or broadly where we get to watch a conversation between a Native American and immigrant character. Like That dialogue, that whole story, it is just, we don't get to see it really, you know. I mean, I feel like immigrant stories and Native American stories oftentimes considered mutually exclusive in the field of American history but a place like New Mexico is really where you do get that kind of convergence. I spent a lot of time in Gallup, New Mexico and there was around the border where during the World War II the Japanese American incarceration, where, you know, West Coast Japanese Americans were put in concentration camps. So right at that border. So, Gallup was one of the towns where they refused to allow people to take the Japanese Americans. And that is is a town that is largely in Navajo. And so, I just think about, kind of, you know, what was happening in that time period, and you know, now in Gallup there is a lot of Philipino immigrants who are caring for Native Americans, who have been affected by, you know, the toxins of Uranium mining. And so I wonder, could you talk a little bit more, Shirin, about that? Were you kind of on a mission to convey something, or do you feel like it was just something that came out a bit naturally for you?

    -(Shirin Neshat) It is I am so glad you brought this up because I remember that, you know, first of all, I lived in this country for since 1975. I never met Native Americans except one person. And I think that is really shocking, you know. And so when I met this man who actually plays in the movie, Larry King, and I got to hear his story, his family. He’s a fantastic storyteller. He was so curious about me as an Iranian. I just couldn't believe how much questions he had about where I came from. Even the landscape of Iran, the religion of Islam, my relationship to the country today, and to this country, and the music, and everything, is like he never met an Iranian before. And I never really met or really gotten close to a Native and so then he invited me and my two friends also women to their family reunion for her mother's birthday. And I was just beyond myself, going into this very intimate gathering and seeing their ritual, their ceremony of prayers, and food-eating, and this incredible landscape they lived yet extreme poverty. And that dichotomy just sort of really and I remember on the way there, I am being very intimate on this talk but on the way there I wanted to buy a gift so we went to a place to buy meat as a gift. And even though that shop was within the reservation, they would not acknowledge my friend who was a native but they would sell to me. I was just so aware of the racism that still existed and how they had to still really struggle to maintain their integrity as a community, and the issues of economy, and control of the government. So, I think that knowing that I came from a very problematic past of a government who is dictatorship. How I live in exile because of who I am and the kind of control that sort of rules the Iranian society and the kind of control that they were facing as a community and incarceration, and the way that they were still struggling to maintain a sense of dignity. I was so related to that and how they were a foreigner in their own land, you know. And how I felt a foreigner in this country, yet a foreigner in respect to my own country. So, it just brought up all these issues that we had in common, as people who were displaced or at least for me, displaced. I don’t know. I think they felt also in some ways. We just bonded because we had so much in common in a way I never thought I would have so much common with the Native American. And I think that is the nature of the "Land of Dreams" in the way that the universality of themes that we find through connecting to other people's dreams, which are really a projection of our anxieties and our fears. And we find that, of course we are conditioned to different societies, and different governments, and different power system and tyranny. But we are also so human and we are all like filled with the same sense of anxieties. In our dreams are the only things that they don't acknowledge cultural differences. It is just what is really common human experience, you know. And I think that anyway, I just wanted to…

    -(Saisha Grayson) So beautiful. And it is definitely what I responded to when seeing the video first, was this, you know, I work at the American Art Museum so I have a vested interest in projects that, you know, where I see an artist I have been following for years suddenly turn their eye to this context, but then what you found here was a way of looking at a situation that very often gets sort of, as you said, divided up or treated separately and seeing the internal diaspora as well as the international diaspora and that they are actually so much interrelated in that space and in that configuration. But it is also interesting for me to hear you because there is this universality of the dreams. But for me I was also so struck by how much each of them is about unearthing, kind of, these traumas that are or these violences that are part of the American history that get repressed and that are not spoken aloud and that may be the dreams are the only places we are allowed to process or acknowledge the history of Native American children being stolen or militarism being the core under this landscape, this beautiful landscape that is so dramatically you know, lovingly treated by your camera is also the landscape of this toxic, military nuclear history. And that is being unearthed by the dreams. And there is one other dream that actually we heard a little bit the clip in the film at the end when you hear the woman whose precious elephants are being taken by dirty little children who were going to drop them and destroy them. And that dream just had so much palpable of the, sort of, white anxiety of something that you believe is yours and shouldn't be taken or is being invaded by the other. And it felt both, yes, of course, everybody has that anxiety. But the way it was teased out and structured felt so particular to this moment in American history where this question of claiming and feeling ownership over something that you have already stolen is so interesting. And so I was wondering if you could talk more about that dream?

    -(Shirin Neshat) Yes. I mean, one of the things I have to confess, I mean, I just want to say one thing is that, with this project, also, I realize that for so long I say I am Iranian. But with this project I say I am very American. I feel that I really came to terms with the reality that I must consider myself completely American and allow myself to have, to give my perspective about the country that I have spent so many years in here. But the one thing that was very difficult and challenging is also not to be overly biased or have my own sort of agenda in terms of pointing finger of specific type of people in America or because I have never interested in being critical of anybody. I just always been interested in raising certain questions but never really, sort of, answering any questions. But for me, because we often talk about the Middle East, Iran as people of religion. I think in this country, religion is also a major factor, a very dominant part of the American society. And so in this particular scene that you are talking about and in the movie if you have seen it, hopefully some friends will see, there is an entire scene in a Church with a priest who is, anyway, it is a complicated scene. Yeah. But I felt that among the topics to touch on in American society, is the issue of religion and those who are extremely faithful. Just like a lot of Muslims are. And that faith makes them often racist or sees things in a very polaric way. And so the house that we visited that, we filmed this blonde lady’s home, was actually belong to a woman who was very hardcore Republican and had this figures of elephants, which are symbol of the Republicans. She was a Sunday painter or whatever. And she was just lovely. And she we didn't change anything in that house. But essentially, the dream became of a woman whose husband is a missionary. And she worries about, and you know, as you saw all those icons, religious icons everywhere of the Madonna, that it would be broken by some crappy kids. And yeah, this was something that was partially made up but partially was from what we collected and from someone like that. But, yeah, we didn't change much of that household. It was very much the lady who lived there was very much like that.

    -(Saisha Grayson) Well, it is almost time to turn to audience questions and we’ve got many and they are very long. So I am going to ask Adriel do you have any last questions you want to make sure we touch on while I try to process some of these?

    -(Adriel Luis) All of them. I mean, well. First of all, it was good to hear Larry King’s name. And the Red Water Pond Community, and to know that you connected with him, you know. I think of him when I think about just, sort of, one of the people who expressed how oftentimes outsiders come in and, kind of, extract stories. And so it is really good to hear that you have formed that connection with him because it is just really a testament to the amount of care that you and your crew took in working on these projects. So, I just really want to commend you for that. I guess if there is a specific question about the film, I was curious about, you know like, I was pulling quotes from the film that really kind of called to me. And you know, there is a part where Alan, Matt Dillon’s character says that he is going to take Simin to the land of roses and nightingales. So, I liked looked up land of roses and Nightingales and saw that it is a collection of Persian fairytales. And then I started falling down this wormhole of, like nightingales in dreams, and if they are building a nest, it means that a relative or close friend is going to come back and see you. I mean, it was all like just quick Googling. So, I don't know if any of that was actual material. But I am curious, you know. You were talking about elephants. But onto nightingales which appear a few times in the film. How does that factor in your idea of this dreamscape?

    -(Shirin Neshat) First of all, in the movie, there was two things running parallel. First of all, what was happening in terms of the American government and whole political structure. But the other is this woman’s personal life, personal history and what traumatized her, which was her that her father was originally a political activist and was executed by the government, which is very common for a lot of people of that generation during the revolution. So we always felt that the Colony in a way became her nightmare, you know, maybe the whole film could be a dream. But the Colony became a place where she really had to because when she was outside of the Colony she was more like spying on people's dreams and impersonating them, and putting it on social media. But every time that it came back to the Colony, it was a return to the past that was very dark and really haunted her, and eventually shook her up and she never became stable again because it was a reminiscence of this terrible history that and her father endured. And so the idea of how much the Census Bureau was conscious of where they were taking her and how much they had a role in throwing her in this dark tunnel, you know, because if you watch the film you see that they have her personal history, they know her father was executed. Just like FBI does, just like CIA does. Like when we come to the government, through the custom immigration, you would be surprised how much information they have about us. So she is in a way haunted by her own past, this dictatorship, this very oppressive past. But at the same time, the American government who is sort of playing with her mind, and really just sort of pushing her on the edge. And so, to be more specific, we did use a lot of references to Persian poetry and symbolic metaphoric forms that sort of represented something within the Iranian context. So, there was a lot of that in play, which Shoja Azari, my husband, he had a lot to do with that. But there was a lot of also satire in the Colony, where you have all these Iranian men and women in their 60s and 70s dressed in, you know, military outfits still trying to overthrow the Iranian government. They had not even been to Iran for 30, 40 years. So, there was something very satirical about and absurd about that. So, everything was sort of unbelievable and meant to be.

    -(Saisha Grayson) I think there is a wonderful relief that comes from that because the militarism that is embedded in the landscape and the video is so haunting and very, you know, resonant with real traumas of that space. And then this kind of way you are allowing that to become kind of funny and actually tease it through the Colony was a sense of relief I had in terms of letting that have a little --

    -(Shirin Neshat) I have to share with you a secret. Where we filmed the Colony in the movie is where the American government trains their soldiers to attack Afghanistan, to fight Taliban. So, they have actually built all the streets and mosques. And I mean literally they created this village on top of a mountain near the border of Mexico where they fly in the soldiers to do SWAT teams and all that. And it was really ironic because it is where they trained soldiers. And you know, and it was kind of sad. It was just very ironic, anyway.

    -(Saisha Grayson) You turned into humor. Okay, so I want to ask two questions that I think touch on some of what you were just talking about. One is about symbolism. Symbolism in your work is very prominent. And this is a particular detail that somebody pulled out from the scene where she is laying photographs on the ground. She noticed that the first photograph has three figures in full body length and you really see them. And all the others are portrait faces. And they wanted to know sort of about that difference in the choice of that.

    -(Shirin Neshat) Well, if you see the movie, Simin doesn't have many things but she has one big suitcase. We don't know what is inside of it. We find out it is all family photos that she takes from place to place. And these are photos of her as young person with her mother, with her father. And this is the only thing she has left from her past is a suitcase of images, which most of us as immigrants we try to take with us. But the other images are people who she photographs. The people who they share their dreams. And I may be very honest with you. These are all my photographs that I took. And those images of the families are combination of Sheila Vand, the actress' family, mainly hers and some of mine. So the intention was that all this time she was hiding and keeping her family's photos as like she was attached to it. And then eventually, she had to let go. And she put together images. And she started this spiral which to me, is a reminiscence of Robert Smithson's Land Arts, you know. Where she started with this images of small little pictures from Iran, which happened to be full body , but they are small, and then, she left them be she gives them back to the earth, you know. And eventually, you know, this is the Iranian people, right. And eventually comes to portraits of people that are Americans that she photographed that they were all these strangers to her. So for me, it was this play of starting with who you are and then eventually coming to the world and then all are meshed together. And then when the camera goes up, we all become one. So there was the only picture really we had of the family pictures were the white oneit was not really intentional but it is what we had and it was really our family photos.

    -(Saisha Grayson) Yeah. Another question about her when she goes the Colony or actually in a couple places, somebody said that they are working on a dissertation on the issue of inbetweenness. And they see the face of the foreigner as a mask that plays her own life. And do you see that in Neshat's work? And I wanted to know more about Simin's speaking Farsi. The accent of the protagonist is mechanical, not emotional, as if Simin is a mask. And there is a kind of mechanicalness to the interviewees, too. Is that something to read into? I know that you mentioned that the accent wasn’t sort of was like somebody who has not lived there for

    -(Shirin Neshat) Well, in the video, I mean, first of all, in Farsi she has an accent because she actually, you know, she lived outside. The whole idea for the video she was working for a Colony who considered Americans as an enemy. But the more she went inside American community in this small town, the more she started to identify with the enemy. She emotionally became attached or related to them in the way that was forbidden. So what she did eventually what she was looking for in the library was that what would be the punishment for someone to identify with the enemy. And that's what it was. That she became emotionally connected to her subjects. She was catched later and punished and thrown out. In the movie, she was just being very mechanical. She just wanted people's dreams. So she could later impersonate them. And this is you know, she, at the beginning of the film, all she wanted to do was to work for the Census because of the job of collecting people's dreams because she had an alternative motive which was take this dream, translate them into Farsi. She’s this lonely person who always stays in her hotel. Her only relationship to the world was the social media. And again, this is in the near future. So the only community she has was these virtual people. So she translated it. So her only obsession was “let me catch these people's dreams and impersonated them.” But if you watch the movie, the 2-hour. You’ll eventually see that things change. Again, just like in the video, she goes as a spy. She tries to collect dreams. But eventually things happen. She cannot separate herself from the people and their dreams. She eventually becomes invested in their lives and emotionally affected by them. And by the end of the film, she is a very different person than what she started with. There is a transformation.

    -(Saisha Grayson) Yeah. I mean. In the scene we opened with, she is so snarky. The manipulativeness of like, “Oh, no, I need them twice.” Like, there is a real way in which you can feel her sort of playing with them. Here is a really interesting question, if the New Mexican desert is one of the major characters in this project. How’d you see ITS character? Apart from being stunningly beautiful, it would seem hostile and really difficult to live in for people who come there recently, maybe without comforts of AC or electricity. So does it have its own inherent character, separate from these histories or whatever?

    -(Shirin Neshat) It’s a really interesting question. And I think there is a hardship of living in bare landscape, as beautiful as they are. I mean, that's you know, that is a question I think more for the people who live there for a long time. I know that, you know, there is something extremely mystical and spiritual about being in the vicinity of this incredible landscape but like I said a lot of the Natives that we met, they live so far away from everything, that the practicality of that lifestyle is really, there is a lot of hardship. We visited many people who lived very isolated in the middle of nowhere. And they were quite far, you know, from any civilization, food, and gas, and all that. But there was a choice that they made to live in a very isolated way. But there is something extremely incredible about New Mexico also about the diversity of the landscape and how why different people for different reasons have taken refuge there including Georgia O'Keeffe, or Ernest Martin, to Bruce Nauman, to name a few artists, you know, to a lot of writers to filmmakers to intellectuals. A lot of people have decided to live in Albuquerque or Galisteo, or a lot of different beautiful places to make art. And I think that is one of the fascination, the hardship but yet the mystery behind this landscape that is so inspirational, I think for many people.

    -(Adriel Luis) Yeah, I mean, I think with New Mexico, this idea of the land being hostile, I think, you know, something that I heard a lot out there is you know, I mean, the land is the land, right. Even though Uranium in the land is the Uranium. And then what is it that actually makes something hostile, right. You know, New Mexico has like 16 Superfund sites. You just can’t go in. You will get contaminated with radiation. But that is people that did that, right. There are these elements in the ground that had been there for millennia. But it was the intervention of military intervention of government that actually turned it so that these elements and the dynamic between the land and the people became a hostile relationship. So I think it is interesting to think about whether or not that is actually something that would describe New Mexico itself or I guess like the western human history of the space.

    -(Shirin Neshat) And the last thing I want to say is that I was very impressed by how the Navajo Nation, their communities were very much working in protecting their sacred mountains and landscape. They were extremely picky in terms of how it was used, who was using it. And they took a lot of, you know, it very precious for them what they had. And so I was really very impressed by how their relationship with their landscape and how much they worked hard to protect its values, really.

    -(Saisha Grayson) Well, we are really close to time so I am going to ask one more question because it feels very poignant and pointed. Rebecca says I was surprised Shirin thought the American Dream was somehow being eroded? Was it ever really real or was it just a dream that people bought into? So I think that is a curious question. Sort of what spending a lot of time thinking about sort of what has changed in the American Dream, but what do we think about it as a core idea?

    -(Shirin Neshat) I mean, of course, I can only speak from my own perspective. But you know, I came to this country since 1975. And I never really personally felt a huge amount of racism or discrimination. And I remember when I started to have problem with my own country and my own government, you know, I almost couldn't leave the country for whatever reason. And I entered, it was 1996, I remember coming back to the JFK. And I remember very well, after very, very difficult departure from Iran. An African American immigration officer said to me, “Welcome Home.” And I just burst into tears because I realized that, you know, America does give me the sense of freedom and democracy that nowhere else does. I never felt safe in Europe. Certainly, didn't feel safe in my own country. And that I felt good. I felt like I am who I am because of this country. I am educated here. I was alone since young adulthood. You know, I really feel like this country made my dreams come true. Until a few years ago where and after September 11 where there was this experience, I really began to feel discrimination and racism. And I felt that the whole fabric of the society was shifting in all the wrong direction. And you know, especially since Trump Administration. And I think it was at that moment, that I felt that people like myself also need to take responsibility to defend what is great about this society and how it’s created and built by the blood of immigrants and how we need to insist that this is what America is about and its identity. And I really this is my belief that this is a great country. And there is a great values about this country that I cherish and I love more than anywhere else. I don't want to go anywhere else. But if I see that there is something wrong, and I come from a country that doesn't give you the freedom of expression. Here it does. And I am going speak about it. And I am going make work about it. And yet still I feel there is fantastic values that I really worship about America and that’s showing in the work.

    -(Saisha Grayson) Well, okay. I am going to tear up. I am going say thank you. What a note to end on. Adriel, I invite you, do you want to add anything to that, before we to say huge thanks all around.

    -(Adriel Luis) Just such an honor to be in conversation with the both of you. I just respect both of you so much. And I admire you so much, you know. When I saw your exhibition at the Hirshhorn, Shirin, it really changed the way that I thought about immigration and diaspora and what art can do just to speak on that. So if I could just kind of be a fan boy for a second, I just want to say that. Thank you so much.

    -(Shirin Neshat) I wanted to thank you both. Really, you have so generous and kind. There is so much to cover between a feature film and video and the whole project. I think we touched on important things. And I just want to say thank you for both of you and the Museum for this invitation. I wish we were not virtual and in person. But we’ll see in the future.

    -(Saisha Grayson) Next year, we will make it happen. But yeah, so thank you for joining even in this less than, you know, physical space. I feel like I have shared presence with both of you. As you said, there is so much to get to. And also with audience questions, I am sorry we couldn't get to all of them. But thank you for all of them, they are all great. I am noticing in the chat that some people didn't see the link in their e-mails so I want to say aloud. SAAMPrograms@si.edu you can email to make sure you get that. I also want to remind everyone that this conversation with the clips included will be available on our website through April 8th, along with the other conversations we’ve had. And then at April 8th, it turns over and we take the artworks out just to be respectful of people's work, but the conversations remain. So if you want to revisit that beautiful comment that Shirin closed us out with, that will be there for perpetuity. So thank you again everyone and have a wonderful evening. Enjoy your night.

    -(Shirin Neshat) Thank you so much everyone. Have a great evening.

    -(Adriel Luis) Good night everybody.

    -(Shirin Neshat) Bye.